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'Tulip Fever' Film Review: A tangled storyline leaves great performances out to wilt

September 1, 2017Britany Murphy

Touting an all-star cast that includes Academy Award winners Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander and Dame Judi Dench, on paper Tulip Fever seems like the type of period drama that checks all the boxes, including intrigue, interesting characters and a picturesque historic backdrop. However, director Justin Chadwick’s long-delayed adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s bestselling novel ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

Set in the 17th century, just before the height of tulip mania in the Netherlands, the story finds a young woman, Sophia (Vikander), married off to a wealthy merchant named Cornelis Sandvoort (Waltz), in the hopes of bettering her life. Having been orphaned as a child, Sophia had been living in an abbey with a few other girls and was raised by the nuns there, including the Abbess of St. Ursula (Dench).

When Cornelis commissions a portrait of himself and Sophia from a talented, new artist, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), this is the moment that trouble arises. The instant attraction that Jan has to Sophia is easily noticeable, but Cornelis seems so wrapped up in his own world that he doesn’t realize anything, even when his wife asks him to find a new artist because she’s feeling overwhelmed by Jan as well.

Sophia and Jan play a dangerous game of cat and mouse before their torrid affair begins — all whilst Jan is still working on the commission for her husband. In the meantime, the tulip market is booming, and it seems as though every single person in Amsterdam wants to get their hands on a piece of the metaphorical pie — even Jan. He believes it to be the answer to all of his and Sophia’s problems, but what he doesn’t know is that this is only the beginning.

There is so much going on in Tulip Fever that it’s hard to tell if the film is a period drama or a strange romantic comedy. At times, the tonal shift is quite jarring, as the script by Moggach and screenwriter Tom Stoppard moves from one character to the next, with no discernible flow about it. Not even the all-star cast manages to save this muddled narrative, which loses its way due to too many intersecting storylines and no real sense of direction.

The movie’s only saving grace comes from the great performances of its main cast, as well as the comic relief that comes in the form of a very hands-on fertility doctor named Sorgh (Tom Hollander), housekeeper, Maria (Holliday Grainger), and the drunken ramblings of manservant Gerrit (Zach Galifianakis). However, their effort is largely for naught. As both audiences and the film itself struggle to decide just what kind of movie it is, Tulip Fever's identity crisis ultimately ends up being its downfall.

Tulip Fever releases September 1st, 2017 from Entertainment One. The film has an MPAA rating of R. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 47 Mins.

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